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Easy as Pie
A Guide to the Perfect Thanksgiving Dessert
By Kirk Leins
Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without it. I'm not talking about turkey, or any of its dinnertime accompaniments. I'm referring to pie, a dessert so delicious you can't pass it up, regardless of how much you've already eaten. You simply loosen your belt and return to your spot at the dining room table, guiltlessly uttering the phrase, "I'll take a big slice, please."
For two reasons in particular, I consider pie to be a national treasure. First and foremost, it is a delicious dessert. If presented with the choice of either pie or cake, I'd pick pie. The combination of a buttery, flakey crust and any number of sweet, sumptuous fillings is something I just can't refuse. I'll bet that many of you feel the same way.
Reason number two is that pie (as we know it at least) is truly American. While there are many countries with indigenous versions, few comparisons can be made to the pie we serve as dessert in the good ol' USA. This combination of uniqueness and overall goodness is the reason it has transcended from a mere treat into a beloved cultural icon. I surely can't think of any better way to end my Thanksgiving dinner.
With my pie testimonial out of the way, it's time to talk preparation. And there's no better place to start than with the crust.
The Upper Crust
Before I give you the pie crust I think is the most utilitarian, let me say that the main difference in most recipes lies in the choice of fat. Should we use butter, shortening, lard, or a combination of any two? While much can be said on the subject, the basic gist is that butter yields the best flavor, and both shortening and lard are better for turning out a crisp and flaky crust.
Due to the awesome taste, as well as its overall ease, I'll be sharing a classic recipe for an all-butter pie crust. Rest assured that as long as you work with very cold butter, and are careful to not over-mix your dough, this method also results in a wonderfully textured crust. I've had some really great pie crusts made with both shortening and lard but let's face it, shortening is full of trans fats and lard isn't something the novice pie crust maker is going to necessarily procure.
All-Purpose Pie Crust (makes 2 9-inch crusts)
Place cubes of butter in the freezer for 20 minutes to ensure they are very cold.
In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar and quickly pulse to mix. Add the very cold butter cubes to the work bowl and pulse 6 to 10 times, or until the mixture resembles course sand and small pebbles. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to pulse until the mixture begins to clump. If the dough holds together when pinched it's ready. If not, continue to add ice water and pulse until this consistency is achieved.
Remove the dough from the work bowl and place on a floured work surface. Divide the dough into two equally sized pieces and sprinkle with flour. Knead both pieces just enough to form two small discs. You should be able to see small chunks of butter in the finished dough. Kneading it past this point will cause your pie crust to be dense, as opposed to flakey. Sprinkle the discs with flour and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to two days.
Okay, so our pie dough is made but what do we do with it? The answer to this question lies with the type of pie you're going to make. Since both of our Thanksgiving pies will only have a bottom crust, we're going to use a technique known as blind baking.
Remove your pie crust from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. On a floured work surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll your pie crust into a 12-inch circle, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Sprinkle your pie crust with additional flour, as needed, to keep it from sticking to your board and rolling pin.
Carefully transfer your pie dough to a 9-inch pie dish. Gently press down so the dough lines the bottom and sides of the dish. Using a knife or kitchen scissors, trim the excess dough from the outer edge of the dish. Flute the edges using your thumb and forefinger, or press with a fork. Transfer your unbaked pie crust to the freezer and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove your pie crust from the freezer and place a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil on top of the crust. Fill your pie crust at least 2/3 full with either dried beans or uncooked rice. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the pie crust from the oven and carefully remove the paper and beans or rice. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the pie crust and return to the oven. Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove the crust from the oven and allow it to cool completely.
Our Thanksgiving Dessert
My first pie takes the fall goodness associated with pumpkin pie and lightens it up a bit. It's perfect for people who love the taste of pumpkin pie, but who find it to be too heavy or are not so fond of the texture.
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (makes 1 9-inch pie)
In the top of a double boiler, whisk together the brown sugar, gelatin, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Beat in the egg yolks, pumpkin puree and milk. Place the double boiler on top of a pot of simmering water. Stirring constantly, cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture slightly thickens.
Empty the water out of the bottom of the double boiler and replace with ice water. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl beat egg whites until they become foamy and double in volume. Beat in granulated sugar one tablespoon at a time until a meringue forms and stands in stiff peaks.
In a separate bowl, beat 1/2 C of the cream until stiff.
Remove pumpkin mixture from the refrigerator. Gently fold in the meringue and then the whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Spoon the mixture into cooled pie shell and chill for several hours, or up to overnight.
Before serving, beat the remaining whipping cream until stiff. Garnish the pie slices with a spoonful of whipped cream and a Mandarin orange segment.
So, you're not so fond of pumpkin? Why not make a similar version of this chiffon pie using lemon. It's light and refreshing, and makes for the perfect dessert to follow a heavy meal like Thanksgiving dinner.
Lemon Chiffon Pie
In the top of a double boiler, mix together gelatin powder, half of the sugar, and the Kosher salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the egg mixture to the gelatin mixture and stir to incorporate.
Place double boiler over simmering water. While continually stirring with a whisk, allow gelatin and sugar to completely melt. This process will take approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
Separate the double boiler and dump out the boiling water from the bottom pot. Replace with ice and fill up with water. Cover the pot with top portion and place the entire double boiler in the refrigerator. Check mixture every five minutes and give it a whisk.
Meanwhile beat egg whites until a meringue forms. Slowly add sugar while continuing to whisk. Once stiff peaks are achieved, place bowl in fridge.
One the egg mixture achieves the consistency of thick yogurt fold in the beaten egg whites until fully incorporated. Spoon the mixture into a cooled pie shell and chill for several hours, or up to overnight.
An hour or so before serving your pie, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula, cover the top of your pie with whipped cream. Refrigerate until 15 minutes before service.
I'd like to end by saying that none of these recipes are difficult to prepare. Do they take a little diligence and preparation on your part? The answer is yes, but here's the deal. This is Thanksgiving we're talking about. And if there is one day that is deserving of the effort we put toward our family meal, Thanksgiving is it! My suggestion is to roll up your sleeves, create a great meal, and when it's all said and done...let them eat pie.
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. His free newsletter, The Everyday Gourmet, is available by contacting Kirk at EGcuisine@gmail.com.
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